One of the highlights of Pope Francis’ one-day pastoral journey to the Italian city of Milan was his visit to the city’s main detention center, the San Vittore Prison. Pope Francis arrived to the Northern Italian city of Milan on Saturday.
Shortly after midday and the recitation of the Angelus, the Pope travelled to the prison where he was welcomed by the director,Gloria Manzelli, and by the prison chaplain, don Marco Recalcati.
San Vittore currently hosts over 900 inmates – both men and women – as well as a number of infants who live with their detained mothers in a special unit. The Pope met briefly with them before exchanging greetings with a large group of the San Vittore staff and volunteers.
The building, designed by the engineer Francesco Lucca, takes inspiration from the 18th century Panopticon with 6 wings with three floors each. Moving through these wings, the Pope was given the opportunity to shake hands with some 80 people representing all the different categories of inmates, before going on to meet those who are detained in a “protected” environment.
In the third wing, Pope Francis sat down for lunch with some 100 prisoners and treated to a typically Milanese cuisine, including rice with saffron and steaks “alla Milanese” prepared by some of the inmates themselves.
The visit concluded with an exchange of gifts and the blessing of cards with the prisoners’ names on them to be taken away by the Pope.
Throughout his pontificate Pope Francis has highlighted the predicament of prisoners and urged political leaders across the world to respect the dignity of inmates and offer them amnesty whenever possible. In many occasions he has called for a criminal justice system that is not exclusively punitive, but is open to the hope and the possibility of re-inserting the offender into society. Pope Francis has also called for a world-wide abolition of the death penalty and said he opposes life in prison without parole.
Underlining his deep concern for prisoners the Pope concluded the Holy Year of Mercy with a special Jubilee Mass for some 1,000 prisoners from 12 countries and their families, as well as prison chaplains and volunteers in St. Peter’s Basilica.